Milwaukee County, WI, Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz holds big fundraising lead in state Supreme Court race

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz raised more money over the last six months of 2022 than her three rivals combined in the pivotal race that will determine majority control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Protasiewicz along with Dane County Circuit Judge Everett Mitchell are running as liberal candidates in the race. Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow and former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly are the conservative candidates.

The top two vote-getters in the Feb. 21 primary will advance to the April 4 election. The winner replaces conservative Justice Patience Roggensack, who is retiring.

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Races for the Wisconsin Supreme Court are officially nonpartisan, but candidates for years have aligned with either conservatives or liberals as the contests have become expensive partisan battles. The conservative-controlled court for more than a decade has issued consequential rulings in favor of Republicans, with major cases looming that could determine the future of abortion laws, redistricting and rules of elections.

The candidates and outside interests that have promised to spend millions on the race have been relatively quiet up to this point, more than a month before the primary. But those on both sides have made clear they see the race as crucial in the battleground state, with whoever winning determining ideological control of the court heading into the 2024 presidential race and at least a year after.

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz (right) participates in a Supreme Court candidates’ forum. Protasiewicz currently leads the competitive field in fundraising.
(John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

Protasiewicz raised just over $756,000, while Mitchell raised nearly $116,000 over the last half of 2022. Mitchell and Protasiewicz were the only two candidates who were raising money during the entire six-month reporting period.

Dorow, one of the conservative candidates, raised nearly $307,000 in just one month after getting into the race in December. Kelly, her conservative rival, raised just over $312,000 between when he got in the race in September and the end of the year.

All of the candidates filed their latest spending reports on Tuesday.

Protasiewicz had nearly $735,000 cash on hand as of Jan. 1. Mitchell had about $72,000 cash on hand. On the conservative side, Dorow had more than $283,000 cash on hand while Kelly had nearly $277,000.

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There were several notable contributors.

Democratic Wisconsin Elections Commission member Mark Thomsen gave $5,000 to Protasiewicz and Democratic state Sen. Kelda Roys gave $1,000. Donors who gave the maximum allowed contribution of $20,000 to Protasiewicz included attorney and former Supreme Court candidate Tim Burns and philanthropists Lynde Uihlein, David Lubar, Marianne Lubar and Madeleine Lubar.

Kelly received $20,000 donations from billionaire GOP megadonors Dick and Liz Uihlein.

Fair Courts America, a group funded by Uihlein, plans to spend millions of dollars to back Kelly, the group’s spokesman, Dan Curry, said in November.

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Other notable donors to Kelly included Republican Wisconsin Elections Commission Chair Don Millis, who gave $5,000, and former Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Rick Graber who gave $2,500.